At the Water’s Edge

Scripture: Acts 10:1-23a

Title: At the Water’s Edge

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Jesus prepares Peter (to catch people)
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

 

Watch the Tranzsend intro to Self Denial video clip…

 

https://www.tranzsend.org.nz/media-video/1453-introduction-til-the-nets-are-full

 

Then watch the Tranzsend week 1 ‘at the water’s edge’ video clip…

 

https://www.tranzsend.org.nz/media-video/1454-at-the-waters-edge-week-1

 

Please turn with me to Luke chapter 5, page 81, toward the back of your pew Bibles

  • The headline for this year’s Tranzsend Prayer and Self Denial campaign is: ‘til the nets are full’
  • This is a reference to the story in Luke 5, where Jesus calls some of his first disciples, 4 fishermen from Galilee
  • From Luke 5, verse 1 we read…

Read Luke 5:1-11

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A1-11&version=GNT

May the Spirit of Christ give us understanding

This reading from Luke forms the back drop of Tranzsend’s Self Denial campaign this year

  • Today’s sub heading is “at the water’s edge”
  • At the water’s edge is where fishermen wash, mend and prepare their nets before heading out into the deep to catch fish
  • Without this careful preparation the effort of letting down and pulling up the nets can be wasted

In the DVD clip we saw earlier, Lynley spoke about the work they do at the water’s edge in Thailand to support and prepare the local Christians for mission

  • For example, they facilitated the installation of a water well in a village which gave the Christians in that place a passport to share the gospel
  • Lynley is also involved in creating Bible study resources for new Christians to help them get started in the faith
  • These, and other things, help prepare the way for Jesus

These activities are valuable and worthwhile but perhaps the most important work done at the water’s edge is the preparation and re-formation of ourselves (that is, our inner lives) so the nets of our hearts and minds are prepared for the work God has planned for us

In verse 10 of Luke 5 Jesus says to Peter…

  • “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be a fisher of men.”
  • In other words, ‘Peter, I’m calling you to catch people for me – to bring men & women into the kingdom of God’

Jesus prepares Peter (to catch people)

Peter’s preparation (at the water’s edge) involved 3 years learning directly from Jesus, like an apprentice

  • Then, in the book of Acts, we see Jesus’ prediction come true as Peter indeed catches people for God, through preaching the gospel

Please turn with me to Acts chapter 10 – page 163 toward the back of your pew Bibles

  • In this passage we read how God sends Peter fishing among the Gentiles
  • But before heading out into the deep, the Spirit of Jesus first prepares Peter at the water’s edge
  • From Acts 10, verse 1 we read…

Read Acts 10:1-23a

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+10%3A1-23a&version=GNT

May the Spirit of Jesus wash and mend the nets of our hearts and minds

‘Networking’

  • It’s a word these days which, in business circles, means meeting other people who can help you in your work, creating relationships with people which are mutually beneficial

When we were at Baptist College training for ministry our New Testament lecturer, George Weiland, gave us a picture of how relationships work when God is involved

[Pull out white board and draw vertical lines at either end of the board]

Imagine, if you will, that this line here represents you

  • And this other line over here represents someone else
  • Perhaps you are connected to this person through work
  • [Draw a horizontal line connecting the two vertical lines]
  • So long as you share the same workplace and get along then you have a connection
  • But if you (or they) leave the job, or you have a falling out, then the connection is severed [wipe out a hole in the horizontal line]

How do you keep the connection – how do you mend the relationship?

  • Well, it’s a lot harder if your only point of contact is work
  • But if you have made other connections with them…
  • [Draw more horizontal lines as you give examples]
  • Like for example, playing squash or baby-sitting their kids or inviting them over to your house for a meal or regularly praying for them, or whatever, then you have a lot more points of connection
  • And so the relationship is more robust and you are better able to fix the breakdown which happened at work [reconnect the broken line]

But wait there’s more – because if it is a relationship that God condones then God (by His Spirit) will strengthen those points of connection as we make them

  • [Draw vertical lines]
  • And now what do we have?
  • Yes, that’s right, a net. Far more robust than a single strand
  • Networking, in this sense, involves God

So how does this relate to Peter & Cornelius?

  • [Rub out what is on the board]
  • Well, imagine this line here [draw a vertical line to one side labelling it ‘C’ for Cornelius] represents Cornelius
  • And this line over here [draw another vertical line on the other side labelling it ‘J’ for the Jews] represents the Jews

Acts 10 starts with Cornelius

  • As a Centurion Cornelius was in charge of 100 men in the Roman army
  • This meant he was a Gentile – he wasn’t Jewish
  • We know this because the Jews at that time in history were exempt from military service

Somewhat surprisingly, despite being a Roman Centurion, Cornelius reaches out in acts of friendship to the Jewish people

  • His whole family worships Yahweh – the one true God [Draw a horizontal line]
  • Which means he probably attended the local synagogue [Draw another horizontal line]
  • Not only this but Cornelius helps the poor [Draw another horizontal line]
  • And he prays for people [Draw another horizontal line]

Cornelius is a top bloke, both by Roman standards and Jewish standards

  • And, he is at the edge of the water in the sense that he is ready to accept Jesus, only he needs someone to tell him about Jesus first
  • So God takes the initiative and sends an angel with very specific instructions for Cornelius to fetch Simon Peter
  • [Draw a vertical line on the white board]
  • And Cornelius obeys God as quickly as he can [Draw a horizontal line]

Although Cornelius is ready to receive Jesus, Peter isn’t yet ready to tell Cornelius about Jesus

  • Acts 10 is often described as the conversion of Cornelius but in many ways it is as much about the conversion of Peter
  • Peter needs the net of his heart & mind enlarged to accommodate the Gentiles

While Cornelius’ servants are on the way, Peter has a vision which basically makes it clear that all kinds of reptiles, birds and animals are now kosher to eat

  • [Draw a vertical line] – this is God doing some more to help Peter & Cornelius’ relationship

Peter, the ‘rock’, is aptly named for he disagrees with the voice saying

  • “Certainly not, Lord! I have never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled”
  • Peter is complicated – on the one hand he says he never eats unclean foods but on the other hand he is boarding with a tanner whose trade (of working with dead animals) made him unclean [1]
  • But the voice spoke to Peter again, “Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean”. This happened three times
  • [Draw two more vertical lines]

While Peter was still trying to understand what the vision meant, the Spirit of Jesus said to him…

  • “Listen! Three men are here looking for you. So get ready and go down and do not hesitate to go with them”
  • [Draw another vertical line] – once again God is strengthening Peter & Cornelius’ relationship

Peter welcomes the Gentile messengers and shows them hospitality for the night [Draw a horizontal line] – then he leaves with them the next morning for Cornelius’ place – [Draw another horizontal line]

  • Peter has put it all together and realised God is saying, Gentiles are fit to be included in the sharing of the gospel – fit to receive Christ
  • This reconstruction of Peter’s net happens at the water’s edge, before Peter even meets Cornelius

We may think little of this from our perspective in history, but from Peter’s perspective (from a Jewish perspective) it was revolutionary, it was huge

  • Peter was going against literally 1000’s of years tradition, in faith that God was doing something new
  • It took great courage for Peter to embrace the change

In his book, ‘Things Hidden’, the Catholic priest Richard Rohr talks about… [2]

  • “My story”
  • “Our story”
  • And “The story”

My story is just that – it is my own personal life story, or your own personal life story – it is the story of the individual

Our story is about ‘us’ or ‘we’ – it is the collective story of the group we identify with

  • For example, we kiwis, or we Generation X’s or we Baptists or we teachers or whatever the group happens to be

And The Story is those things (or patterns) which always hold true, irrespective of My story or Our story

  • For example, ‘forgiveness always heals’ – that is true whether you are Christian, Hindu or Buddhist. The story describes ‘what is’

Let me illustrate further…

Peter’s my story is that he was a fisherman called to follow Jesus

  • He often put his foot in it and on one occasion he even denied Jesus
  • But Jesus restored him, so that Peter became the rock on which Christ built the church

Peter’s our story is that he was Jewish and we Jews don’t eat certain foods and we don’t associate with certain people – like Roman Centurions for example

  • We Jews stick to ourselves because we are God’s chosen people don’t you know

But the story (of which God is the author) is that God loves all nations, whether they are Jewish or not

  • Jesus died and was raised for all people. The gospel is for everyone and so Peter must not consider any person unclean

This is what happens for Peter in Acts 10 – this is what his conversion is about

  • God had to gently burst the bubble of Peter’s our story to show him the story (the bigger picture)
  • Or to put it another way, the story (of God) redeems both my story and our story
  • The story is the truth which gives meaning to our own private pain and sets us free from the failings of our own little culture or group

Sometimes in the history of inter-cultural mission one ethnic group has said our story is the story – or in other words, you must adopt our cultural practices if you want to be a Christian

  • We shouldn’t do that
  • We must have the humility (as Peter did) to tell the story of God without imposing our culture on others

When it comes to Cornelius’ ‘my story’ (his own personal story) little is known

  • He was a soldier in charge of 100 men and he was searching for God – that much is certain
  • Did he have blood on his hands? As a soldier, quite likely
  • Did he carry the burden of surviving when others around him had died?
  • Maybe – guilt might explain why he is trying so hard to be good
  • Then again it could be that he is simply an honourable man

As a functionary of the Roman army – part of the fist of Caesar – Cornelius’ our story was one of violence in pursuit of peace.

  • The Romans considered themselves great stewards of justice, but that is not necessarily how the people they had conquered saw it

The story is that God is in control more than the Romans and His way is one of vulnerability in pursuit of peace

  • Through the cross Jesus takes responsibility for any blood on Cornelius’ hands

In receiving the story of the gospel we must have the humility (as Cornelius did) to face the injustice of our story

  • To admit where the group we belong to has gone wrong
  • And to admit where we personally have gone wrong

Conclusion:

Don’t you love the way God uses Cornelius to evangelise Peter as well as using Peter to evangelise Cornelius

  • There is a mutuality to mission here which is quite beautiful
  • Peter is changed as much as Cornelius is

Peter, the missionary, doesn’t come with all the answers

  • He doesn’t have the whole story
  • But he is listening to God who does know the whole story
  • And so God speaks through Peter to Cornelius

Likewise Cornelius, the God fearing Centurion, does not sit in complete darkness – he is not entirely ignorant

  • He too is listening to God and so God uses Cornelius to reach Peter

Let me finish now with two questions…

  • What is your story?
  • And how is God enlarging your net with the story?

 

[1] Refer van Thanh Nguyen, in ‘Peter and Cornelius: A Story of Conversion and Mission’, page 118.

[2] Richard Rohr, ‘Things Hidden’, pages 21-24

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